Just three weeks ago, Houston County’s football team was 6-0 and ranked No. 1. Its quarterback, Jake Fromm, a Georgia commit, was on pace to break the state’s records for passing yards in a season and a career.
Now, after a stretch of just two losses, the Bears are facing extinction. They either defeat No. 2 Northside-Warner Robins this week and No. 1 Valdosta next week or sit out the playoffs.
It’s happened only twice the past 20 years, most recently in 2006 with Lowndes, that a team ranked No. 1 at any point failed to make the playoffs. And without a heroic effort, Fromm’s season could end at the doorstep of the records held by Hutson Mason (season) and Deshaun Watson (career).
But that’s life in Georgia’s toughest region – 1-AAAAAA – which also features No. 8 Lee County and No. 9 Coffee. Houston County (6-2, 0-2) could be the odd team out of this five-team region. Only four can make the playoffs.
Here are more twists and turns of the Georgia high school football season with just two weekends before the playoffs.
-Four games will decide region championships Friday. They are Lowndes at Colquitt County (1-AAAAAAA), Brookwood at Norcross (7-AAAAAAA), Loganville at Buford (8-AAAAA) and Burke County at Thomson (3-AAAA).
-Seventeen other teams can clinch region titles with victories this week. They are Westlake (2-AAAAAAA), Lambert (5-AAAAAAA), Valdosta (1-AAAAAA), Lakeside-Evans (3-AAAAAA), Alexander (5-AAAAAA), Dacula (8-AAAAAA), Wayne County (1-AAAAA), Stockbridge (4-AAAAA), Cairo (1-AAAA), Mary Persons (2-AAAA), Stephens County (8-AAAA), Jenkins (3-AAA), Westminster (5-AAA), Benedictine (2-AA), Callaway (5-AA), Washington County (3-AA) and Clinch County (2-A).
-Among those, Jenkins (7-1, 5-0) is the hungriest. The Savannah school can clinch its first region championship since 1966 against city rival Windsor Forest (4-4, 3-3). Region 3-AAA is a bit lighter than Houston County’s. The last team in the region to win a title was Southeast Bulloch in 1994.
-Fifth-ranked Alexander (8-0) of Douglas County can win its first region title since 1996, but standing in the way is fourth-ranked Mays (7-1) at Lakewood Stadium. Mays would need to beat Alexander and then Northgate next week to clinch.
-Lambert of Forsyth County can win its first-ever region title with victory at Milton (3-5, 1-2). Lambert (5-3, 3-0) opened in 2009.
-Arabia Mountain of DeKalb County also is stalking its first region championship (and playoff berth, for that matter). The Rams (7-1, 3-0) will be the only unbeaten team in region play if they defeat Southwest DeKalb (5-3, 3-0) at Godfrey Stadium. Like Lambert, Arabia Mountain opened in 2009.
-Johns Creek of Fulton County is two likely victories from its first region title. The Knights (6-2, 5-1) are heavily favored in 7-AAAAAA games Friday against North Atlanta and next week against Dunwoody. Johns Creek also opened in 2009.
– Hapeville Charter (5-3, 4-0) and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (7-1, 4-0) and are two of metro Atlanta’s newer high schools. Hapeville opened in 2009, KIPP in 2011. They’re headed toward a Nov. 4 showdown. Neither has made the playoffs. Hapeville needs to beat Towers Friday (and is favored by 21, per the computer Maxwell Ratings), and KIPP must beat Douglass on Saturday (and is favored by 3).
-The Clinch County-Charlton County game, called the Swamp War, is on the short list of the state’s best rivalries. Only this year, Charlton (2-5) probably needs an upset to save its season. The Indians haven’t missed the playoffs in Rich McWhorter’s 27 seasons at the South Georgia school. In that time, Charlton leads the series 11-6. At least one team has been ranked in all 18 meetings, including tonight’s. On 13 occasions, both were ranked, the highest total for any Georgia rivalry in that time.
-St. Pius, another perennial state power, is also on the ropes, but there is hope – despite an 0-8 record. Victories over North Oconee (0-8, 0-3) Friday and Madison County (6-1, 1-2) next week will do the trick. St. Pius has averaged 10.4 victories the previous 10 seasons. Noting that all eight of St. Pius’ opponents have been ranked this season, the Maxwell Ratings give St. Pius an encouraging 41.8 percent chance of making the playoffs after all. Houston County would take that. Those chances are just 1.6 percent.